The Oregonian Embarrasses Portland by Cutting Their Last Remaining Restaurant Reviewer
Under the category of “no big surprise” comes yesterday’s news from PDXEater, that The Oregonian newspaper has summarily dismissed its last remaining restaurant reviewer, Roger Porter. After the announcement last year that publisher Fred Stickel was being replaced by Christian Anderson of The Orange Country Register, it didn’t take a genius to see the writing on the wall. In the most recent Register restaurant review, a restaurant is being reviewed by a vegetarian with copious comments from her “boyfriend” as she couldn’t try most of the dishes. The quality of writing makes some of the comments on CitySearch seem like pearls of wisdom.
The bulk of A&E editor DeAnn Welker responses to Eater’s questions are just lip service – “We’ll still cover openings, we’ll still review the new high-end places…”. I can’t help but wonder how they will do this without any food writers, and I feel sorry for the restaurants they don’t deign to grace as meeting their qualifications. Even worse, Welker’s statement that the “home-grown chains” article of the last sad little Diner, is an example of their new focus; the piece lists Burgerville, Pho Van, Hot Lips, McMenamins and Typhoon. No offense to the restaurants listed, but these aren’t exactly bastions of culinary sophistication. On the other hand, they are potential advertisers.
It is no secret The Oregonian is hemorrhaging subscribers, reportedly losing 55 thousand readers over the past two years. The response from the guiding lights that Portlanders aren’t smart enough, or wealthy enough to support a worthwhile restaurant section, is just another signpost on their way to becoming a new spin on the Penny-Saver, replete with full-page ads reminding us how good they are, and gushing offers to recycle our gold.
It is sad when a newspaper becomes an embarrassment to the community it “serves”, as it is a reflection on us as a city. Unfortunately, it looks like we will be stuck with Christian Anderson’s fairy tales until the newspaper is forgotten.
I sat next to Roger during dinner at Beast a few weeks ago and enjoyed talking to him about food at Beast and food in general. Maybe he can follow the model of mczlaw and write for the Oregonian as a contractor, at least he will still be able to contribute in that model. Seems that the Oregonian is trying to outsource/cut costs/stay alive.
I thought their early July review of Nora’s Table in Hood River was a very welcome shock. Rather than reviewing their usual all within walking distance of a Max line stop places it was nice to see them shelling out on mileage for DS to cover a quality establishment one might encounter on a short trip out of town, that might even be the catalyst for such a trip. Good food press is important for small towns since visitors are also likely to visit many other small businesses in what are currently hard times for everyone and it also brings some restaurants to the attention of regional and national media.
Virtually all of the Portland food press has always been far too downtown Portland centric – until they’re after advertising dollars for their annual this, that or the other publication – then they suddenly find their out of town phone book.
And Dude, surely you really can’t believe “bastions of culinary sophistication” is what people want to read about these days, or will adequately patronize is perhaps more my point.
I think this is more emblematic of the problems with newspapers in general than anything particularly short-sighted on the part of the Oregonian. The sad fact is that it is very expensive to cut down trees, turn them into paper, and then cover them with ink that delivers something that is at least somewhat informative on a daily basis. And as much as some of us love holding that newspaper in our hands, the loss of 55,000 subscribers indicates that a growing number of people seem to have found other ways to absorb information. The key word in all of this is “monetize.” If OregonLive attracted enough eyes to their site, the advertisers would likely follow. Or if Roger Porter can figure out how to develop a following for a food blog, as you certainly have, he may be able to continue to offer his insight, just in a new format. Or if what we are proving is that people like to form their impression of a place from the rantings of the masses via sites like Yelp, so be it. I am sure you would say that the experience of an expert reviewer, and his or her tuned palate, are valuable points of reference. I would agree, but you need a critical mass of like-minded individuals to support such a luxury.
It is disquieting as we all undergo the transition from hard media to digital, but lamenting the demise of an anachronistic format that is proving itself to be unsustainably expensive does little to improve things.
Rarian Rakista says
Sentimentality has its place as a way of recognizing those things that may of evoked certain powerful emotions in us in the past, but using it to prognosticate what will turn us on in the future is a path to emotional stagnation. Gastronomy in some ways was usurped from the people some time ago and held jealously in the court of columnists, but the Episteme, the Paradigm, the Way Forward is for every man who wants to have his say to have it, democracy is now served, be it the anarchic wilds of the blogosphere or the moderated halls of gastronomic websites what arises is no longer bound by the conventions or decorums of the past, we are within the guts of a whole new animal.
In many ways this move by the Oregonian reminds me a similar change several years ago when a decision was made to abandon the “society” column. For decades, columnists like Beverly Butterworth and Sara Perry (who may have been the last) privided detailed descriptions and multiple photos of the comings and goings of what was ostensibly the denizens of Portland’s west hills. In a half-hearted attempt at being more “inclusive”, the column was scrapped and replaced with an ersatz “write-your-own-press-release-about-your-fund-raiser-and-be-sure-to-include-a-photo”. The result was a weekly peek into how the Tigard Rotary Club looks in ill-fitting tuxedos.
I draw the comparison because I am of the belief that for pure readability and entertainment value, most of us are drawn to the exotic or semi-unattainable, not the routine and easily accessable. Elitist? perhaps, but isn’t the idea to sell papers??
Perhaps the problem is that elitism is not what sells papers any more. The elite, or large swaths of them, seem to be able to locate the exotic and rarified on the Web with little to no problem. It’s a paradigm shift. And sadly it is leaving many talented people who are married to particular forms of media with no platform to perform from. Move on, adapt, or be crushed by the passing of time and changing forms of communication.
Banana Wonder says
I just moved back to Portland from the OC (curtain). Why is this happening?!
Yes it is a paradigm shift, that the Oregonian is doing. Roger Porter may be a good person, and perhaps knows a lot about food in general and more than that has a good palate too. But he once wrote about an Indian Restaurant and rated the place. I really doubt his knowledge about the type of spices go into making good food. It sounded that his experience or knowledge was limited to tasting steam table buffet Restaurants.
Ouch. Well, I suppose we all have some failing or failings. For instance, I would not know great offal from foul oaf.
Food Dude says
I have a friend who is an offal oaf
Former O Subscriber says
I ended my subscription with the newspaper this week as a result of this. The quality of the O seems to be steadily going down hill in recent years and this was pretty much the last straw. I’ve always tried to be a supporter of my local newspaper in the towns I live in, but I’m giving up on this for my tree killer news reading. Perhaps I’ll pick up a free copy of the Tribune once a week if I need to feel newspaper print in my hands.
The Oregonian is not a good paper. We can disagree on whether this firing is a symptom or a cause of its demise (I vote symptom).
If there is sufficient demand for good/professional restaurant criticism, someone will find a way to make a business of it.
In fact I am going to donate to this site right now to prove my point :)
Food Dude says
Thank you hank! I appreciate your donation.
I’m just happy the Oregonian still delivers me a fresh dog poop bag every morning. If they quit that, I’m out o here!
Really? Does The Oregonian, of all publications, not understand that by outsourcing everything and publishing syndicated columns rather than covering local and relevant material, that they are alienating the large amount of their customer base that actually gives a shit about where they live? (Pardon the language, but really, I feel as if it’s appropriate in this case)
When I moved here years ago I was amazed at the dedication to everything local. I was frustrated while trying to find jobs because I heard time and time again, “you have a great resume, but what experience do you have in Portland?” Oregonians support their own. When a business very publicly shows that they have no interest in supporting the local economy and the people that support it, what possible motivation would people have for funding that business’ continued existence. Especially *AHEM* when it’s a rag like The Oregonian…
Amazing the elitism displayed in these comments. The Oregonian publishes MIX magazine for you food nazis, so can’t we ordinary folks read dining reviews of places where normal working people can afford to eat at? Too bad you’re offended by reviewers who sample restaurants where the entrees are under $25 . . .
You’re wrong. Most of Portland’s most celebrated independent restaurants rarely top $20 for an entree. Toro Bravo, Pok Pok, Clyde Common, Beaker and Flask, Biwa etc etc etc all have realistic entree options for under $20, some for under $10. They all deliver very good products with very good ingredients.
For a nice dinner you can spend more, but you certainly don’t have to.
But….if your just takin the piss………ya got me!
Couldn’t this all have been avoided if the Oregonian had a decent website?
I bet the Oregonian wouldn’t be in half as much trouble as they are if they had just dedicate themselves to building a good website 10 years ago. Instead, they give us oregonlive. The worst website on the history of the internet.
People want news, but they want it online. Should’ve seen this one coming.
Very true. OregonLive is about the worst newspaper web site that I’ve ever seen. Not only is it unappealing to look at but you’d be hard pressed to find anything but the sports section when you go to the site. I came to Portland from St. Louis, not exactly the largest or most sophisticated city in America, but the web site of the St Louis Post Dispatch is extremely well done with a very strong, locally oriented food section. The city also supports a fantastic restaurant & food web site called saucemagazine.com that includes a teriffic restaurant search feature, and I’ve not yet found anything comparable here in PDX.
Two issues here.
1) Roger Porter – To those who know him he may be a knowledgeable food guy. To me he struggled to convey it in his reviews. He always seemed more interested in himself than the food. Example from his final paycheck:
“I could recite another recent dinner menu, but since readers will never experience it, I will only say that I had as splendid a piece of salmon as I’ve ever experienced in this town.”
His reviews are full of “I” and “me”. Describe that fabulous piece of salmon Roger and a little less about you. I hope the Oregonian replaces this freelancer with one who knows food and can also write about food.
2) The Oregonian – The newspaper model is broken folks. As Food Dude pointed out, The O has lost thousands of subscribers but so has every other newspaper in the land. Craigslist took away classified advertising and news websites are doing the rest of the damage. Reporters, journalists, editors, printers, food critics and so on have been laid off in Portland and across the country. Sorry to be the one to break the bad news but it’s not just a Portland problem.
I think some of you are shortsighted wishing for the downfall of the Oregonian. I’m sure the day will come when a major US city will be without a newspaper but I don’t want Portland to be that place. Not only would we not have restaurant reviews in print but the public/government watchdog role would also be gone.
I subscribe to the O for news but I get my food reviews here. How else would I have discovered Beaker & Flask and many other great new spots!? Thanks Food Dude – your opinions on food are always on the money. I think you’re off the mark on the O though.
Nancy Rommelmann says
Nicely put, K1. Agree agree.
Nancy Rommelmann says
It bears keeping in mind: The Oregonian is owned by Advance Publications, which knows how to put out good publications with good websites — they also incorporate Conde Nast, giving us Vogue, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetit et al. But when it comes to nerwspaper websites, Advance has not sunk in the time or dough or creativity. If you look at any of the websites of the newspapers they own (a link: http://www.advance.net/index.ssf?/advance_internet/newspapers.html), you will see, they are nearly identical to Oregon Live’s. As someone who occasionally contributes to the O and has friends in the building, I can assure you, many of the writers there want to pull their hair out at the state of the website; some even offered, a few years ago, to break away and pay to build their own O site to showcase their work (or so I hear). Request, denied. Like all other print publications, Advance has had a very tough few years, and it seems they are not pumping the money into the web as they should. Or rather, as they should have ten years ago.
homer's son says
Did anyone else think their recent “profile” of five Portland chefs was insanely repetitive and annoyingly uninteresting?
I will really miss Porter’s wide-ranging reviews on burgers, barbecue, burgers, barbecue, burgers, and barbecue.
A third-rate paper gets rid of a fourth rate food writer. What’s to miss?
Free Karen Brooks!
Free David Sarasohn!
Once Karen disappeared I personally was outta there.
One thing you’ve gotta hand to the O is their doggedness in the subscription sales department. Bulldogging more akin to debt collection tactics. We’ve settled on a weekend subscription just to get off the calling list, having unsubscribed a couple of times in 5 years. There must be former Marine drill instructors running that department…. I reuse the spent papers to pack my shipping boxes and line the cat carrier on vet visit days. Silver lining??
Good Food For Me says
It seems amazing that The Oregonian started Mix Magazine as a bi-monthly food guide for food and local dining but has a very low distribution to only select neighborhoods. Then when they started to do a monthly it completely got lost in a much smaller publication with little “guts” and became just another vehicle to try and sell ads at virtually the same cost as their bi-monthly. Now they write about maybe one thing – one place and the rest is fluffy stuff. Like does anyone care about what’s served at a dinner party? really? They give it a good try, but it seems a bit bizarre. Too bad they hadn’t put that effort into the food section of the paper or maybe they want to drive more people to Mix. It wasn’t as if Portland needed yet another food magazine – we just needed a couple of places to look that were astute and mindful of peoples diverse tastes. I guess this is being taken over by the internet, but it’s rather sad that Portland, which is so known for great food doesn’t even have a good editor. Nothing was worse than when Karen Brooks wrote such a nasty review of the new spot on the downtown waterfront which in Gourmet Magazine was listed as a place to watch. It goes to show that we don’t support or want to encourage a 5 star here….and perhaps we don’t deserve one.
Seeing 4 day old papers in the daily paper box for a nominal fee says it all to me.
It’s kinda like getting a dirty soiled menu.